Two sides to the Hamilton-Trulli controversy: Another avoidable crisis

Race Control could have resolved the problem in seconds, not days

Race Control could have resolved the problem in seconds, not days

Radio conversations have shown that in the moments after Lewis Hamilton overtook Jarno Trulli in the Australian Grand Prix McLaren’s first concern was to ensure they had not broken any rules.

The responsibility for the controversy that ensued lies as much with the FIA and the stewards as it does McLaren.

Race control

Here’s how Martin Whitmarsh explained the discussion on the McLaren pitwall after Hamilton had overtaken Trulli:

As soon as that happened, we then spoke to Race Control, to explain that and ask if we could retake that place. At the time, understandably Race Control was busy and they were not able to give us an answer. We asked several times, but clearly they were very busy. So we had to then deal with it.

It is doubtful a controversy quite as unnecessary as the one we have just experienced in F1 could happen in sports like Indy Car or NASCAR.

Why? Because they have established the practice of using race control to resolve queries like this to minimise changes to the race order after the chequered flag.

If a driver appears in the wrong position during a safety car period, they don’t wait until after the race to shuffle the order around. And they certainly don’t do it by handing out an arbitrary time penalty that bears no relation to the severity of the infraction, as Jarno Trulli originally experienced.

They use common sense. They radio the teams, tell them to swap their drivers around, and the job is done quickly and painlessly.

After the Spa controversy last year Max Mosley made it known that teams should not consult race control (in the form of race director Charlie Whiting, mentioned in the McLaren transcripts) on such matters.

This is a mistake. By denying teams the opportunity to sort out problems with Race Control quickly Mosley is dooming F1 to suffer a cycle of scandal after scandal.

Indy Car run races on tracks comparable in length to F1 venues, with more cars. If they can use race control to resolves problems like this quickly, F1 can too. And it must.

Evidence and rules

This weekend we saw the first signs of the FIA’s promises to make the stewarding process more transparent in 2009. There were some obvious improvements: radio broadcasts and transcripts were published on the FIA’s website.

But there is much room for improvement as well. Not least the fact it took until four days after the race for this material to appear.

The reasoning for some of the decisions were woefully thin. Sebastian Vettel was handed a penalty because “caused a collision and forced a driver off the track”. There are no details why he was the one considered responsible. It later emerged FIA steward Alan Donnelly took him to one side at Malaysia and explained the reasons in greater detail, but the public has not been given this information.

The FIA have made some improvements to how they communicate their stewards’ decisions and it is appreciated. But far more is needed than these cosmetic changes. We need clearer and more explicit rules for driving standards and far greater detail given in the reasoning behind decisions.

But more than anything else, someone needs to see sense and start using Race Control to avoid minor misunderstandings needlessly spiralling into something that damages F1’s credibility.

With that, assuming there are no major developments in the Hamilton-Trulli story this weekend, let’s get back to the racing.

Read the first part of this post: Two sides to the Hamilton-Trulli controversy: Hamilton apologises

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62 comments on Two sides to the Hamilton-Trulli controversy: Another avoidable crisis

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  1. Rob said on 3rd April 2009, 12:46

    This whole mess could’ve been avoided if they had just red flagged the race after the Vettel/Kubica incident. The final safety car period was completely pointless.

    • Clare msj said on 3rd April 2009, 14:59

      If they had red flagged the race, then Vettel would have been classified 2nd and Kubica third with the taking it back two laps rule – that wouldnt really have been fair given it was them who caused the crash in the first place.

      But i can kinda see your point on that, the race was always going to finish under the safety car as soon as the crash happened, the race order wasnt going to change from the point the SC came out. That said, due to the two laps back rule, they did the right thing.

    • 159Tom said on 3rd April 2009, 15:38

      ah yes, the two laps back rule – they got the winner wrong the last time they used that rule! (wet race in Brazil, Fisichella was declared the winner a few days later and got his trophy at the next race)

  2. schumi the greatest said on 3rd April 2009, 12:52

    agreed…and you also have to note how long it took the safety car to come out after the nakajima crash and how long it took to sort the order out behind it etc.

  3. Lukeaa said on 3rd April 2009, 12:58

    I think its ridiculous how the teams are told not to contact race control, especially for simple matters such as the matter of Lewis and Trulli. Surely if the question is too complicated Charlie can just state this fact and let the teams work it out for themselves, but for simple matters I see no reason why Charlie can’t give a definitive answer to the teams involved.

  4. I’m with you Keith, but i would like to stress on one thing in the end. if McLaren and Hamilton were forthcoming in the beginning about the confusion, and Trulli was also investigated with, the initial ruling would have been as simple as a swap, but lies have a very short life span, and I’m surprised one as big as that lasted 4 days.

    and Race control should employ spotters that would correct such things within a Lap of them happening with direct radio transmission to the driver rather than the pit wall. this way there is no Ryan-like figure to deal with…

  5. Bernification said on 3rd April 2009, 13:03

    I’m very disappointed by the behaviour of McLaren now.
    I couldn’t believe they would be stupid enough to have tried to deceive the FIA like this.

    I’m not quite surprised by the FIA’s inadequacies in this whole fiasco though. What is the purpose of race control, and what a misnomer, if they are incapable of controlling the race during it!

    IMHO, McLaren are still very twitchy after Spa 08 (dreadful decision), but really should have come clean. Lewis was aware of the rules, moreso than his team (as the radio communications have proved), but I do also fear that had he not have moved over he would have been the victim of some arbritary decision. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t.

    It really is beyond time for these goons that are ‘running’ the sport to step aside and let some one with some transparancy, enthusiasm for the sport, and morals run it.

    Lewis, I’m disappointed in you. Don’t be a cheat. That’s rubbish.

  6. 1) Yes, there should be better communication with race control. This is a much-needed change. But:

    2) the easiest way to have avoided this is not lying to the race officials.

  7. PJA said on 3rd April 2009, 13:08

    I agree with the article. Teams should be allowed to contact race control during the race to clear up any problems and stewards should be able use common sense when issuing penalties.

    I still find it strange why the Melbourne stewards didn’t know they had access to the team radios, and how on the information they had at the time why they gave the penalty to Trulli. It seemed like they just believed what ever Hamilton said to them rather than look at the facts.

    Although the matter is closed with what Hamilton has come out and said, I still think they should release a recording of the stewards meeting considering they have released virtually everything else to do with the case.

    I had some questions about the stewards and investigations which I posted near the end of the main article on the subject

    http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2009/04/02/lewis-hamilton-thrown-out-of-australian-grand-prix/

    I won’t post them again but would appreciate if someone could answer them, thankyou.

  8. kurtosis said on 3rd April 2009, 13:10

    OK, let’s assume the FIA are not stupid. So why would they not use race-control to clear up such incidences for the _entire history of F1_ even while other racing series have such provisions in place? I can think of several:

    1. The nature of F1 tracks is different than the simple ovals of Nascar, adding a layer of complexity
    2. Race-control in F1 is understaffed relative to the other series for some very strange reason
    3. Since the safety car is usually deployed after a crash, and since F1 races have historically been much higher speed, race-control needs to concentrate on the safety of the crashed driver first (e.g. whether to medivac) instead of answering questions from pitwalls.

    #3 sounds the most likely. At least that’s probably the reasoning they’re using to justify not allowing the pitwall to contact them.

    I can easily imagine a scenario where race-control simply needs to prioritize the crash first and cannot attend to queries from teams. This opens the specter of inconsistency in handling these situations. Most crashes are benign, so they’ll be able to answer queries. But on a big crash, they can’t prioritize the queries. So there will be uncertainty again.

    So this solution, while probably better than the current methodology, is not quite simple as this post makes it out to be.

    • Simon said on 3rd April 2009, 13:50

      For (relatively) simple rule adjudications, there’s no excuse for not having people on hand to answer them, in any but the most difficult of circumstances.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd April 2009, 14:08

      OK, to take your points:

      1. The nature of F1 tracks is different than the simple ovals of Nascar, adding a layer of complexity

      As I write in the article:

      Indy Car run races on tracks comparable in length to F1 venues, with more cars.

      2. Race-control in F1 is understaffed relative to the other series for some very strange reason

      So hire more staff. This is supposed to be the pinnacle of motor racing right?

      This covers point three as well – it’s another question of priorities and manpower. It’s probably a false economy – is it really cheaper to keep having these long, drawn-out stewards meetings instead? Again, it’s not as if Indy Car is rich, but they manage.

    • matt said on 3rd April 2009, 15:24

      I was thinking the same as Keith, that the low number of stewards in F1 shouldn’t be a reason for not using race-control to clear up incidences, it should be a reason to employ more stewards who deal with different events on track completely seperately so that race-control can clear up incidences- but with someone with common sense like Charlie Whiting overseeing proceedings.

  9. Dougie said on 3rd April 2009, 13:33

    Excellent article Keith, however although I agree completely with your intent I had the same misgivings that kurtosis mentions above.

  10. DGR-F1 said on 3rd April 2009, 13:33

    This may be going in completely the wrong direction, but work with me….
    Haven’t we also had reports that Toyota were as confused about the situation as McLaren, and their radio transcripts show it?
    So both teams involved in an incident needed a quick fix to the situation, either in an answer to a question from them directly or as a statement from Race Control.
    I do not believe that every single FIA official at a racetrack needs to be involved with every major incident, I am sure there would be at least one not doing anything (apart from Max), who could check the messages from the teams and respond, even to say ‘we will sort you out later’.
    For the teams not to get any response at all is rubbish control, and shows that those supposedly in charge are not taking the job seriously enough.
    Perhaps from now on the teams should just bring the cars back to the Pits during any SC periods, and wait for Race Control to sort themselves out?…..

  11. David said on 3rd April 2009, 13:37

    Completely right, Keith.

    But MM clearly wants ‘total control’ over F1, no mere race controller is going to decide this kind of life-and-death issue for him! sorry, for his delegates, the FIA stewards.

    The rotten heart of F1 is easy to identify. Until it’s removed, these kind of dull, sport-killing controversies will continue.

  12. Warren said on 3rd April 2009, 13:47

    I still don’t get why what the driver says has any bearing on the actual incident and penalty. If the team says it’s ok to pass, it’s a legal pass? Since when does F1 say ….”well since you thought you were doing the right thing, then there is no problem?” They should look at the actual incident and decide. The dishonesty is unfortunate for sure. Just my opinion though.

  13. Bigbadderboom said on 3rd April 2009, 14:00

    It’s hard to conceive for me that race control cannot answer a simple running order question. McLaren were trying to do the right thing in seeking advice and as others have said before must have felt in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. But for me the dissapointment is the way in which nobody from the FIA/Race Control seems to want to take responsibilty. They expect McLaren to come out and declare their dishonesty (rightly so) and Lewis to declare his resposibilities, yet nothing from the race officials on their own incompetence.
    The sport needs a figure who is completley responsible, until Spa I thought it was Charlie but events have proven otherwise. There should always be support from race control as it is not only a safety issue but is also a big public relations issue, for the sake of F1 race control should answer every question to ensure the race runs as smoothly as possible.

  14. Paige said on 3rd April 2009, 14:24

    “After the Spa controversy last year Max Mosley made it known that teams should not consult race control (in the form of race director Charlie Whiting, mentioned in the McLaren transcripts) on such matters.

    This is a mistake. By denying teams the opportunity to sort out problems with Race Control quickly Mosley is dooming F1 to suffer a cycle of scandal after scandal.”

    Mosley is too busy proclaiming the virtues of the Master Race while having sex with Nazi dominatrices to deal with in-race problems.

    • pSynrg said on 3rd April 2009, 14:31

      Yeah yeah, that old chestnut, kind of out of context here. MM doesn’t ever have anything to with actual ‘Race Control’.

  15. Tim said on 3rd April 2009, 14:24

    Another avoidable crisis? I’m not sure I agree with that description.

    The “crisis” part of this whole sorry affair has been caused by Lewis Hamilton and McLaren “deliberately misleading” the stewards and being found out. Had information not been withheld Jarno Trulli would have either been confirmed in third (on the basis that McLaren goofed by ordering Lewis to give the place back) or moved back to fourth. Hardly a crisis.

    As demonstrated last weekend, there are limits to what Race Control can do. Even if Charlie Whiting had been able to respond to McLaren what would he have been able to do in time available? The TV cameras failed to pick up Hamilton passing Trulli while the Toyota was on the grass. Should Whiting have made a snap judgement based on solely on the fact that the timing screens showed a change of position had taken place under the safety car? If so, Trulli would have had his mistake on cold tyres wiped out and Hamilton would have lost a position he gained legitimately.

    The only alternative would have been for Whiting to have called for the on-board footage from both cars. But could that have realistically been done before the race ended? Probably not, so it leaves us in more or less the same position of having to look into it after the race.

    • Ah yes, but after the race is when you can review all telemetry, radio comms etc.

      Correct me if I am wrong, but there is no time limit on the stewards issuing a decision – quite the opposite it seems. So why couldn’t they have taken the time to review all the information, speak to the drivers – recalling them for further questions if necessary – and then and only then, issue a decision?

      I would rather they take hours to deliberate properly than make a snap decision on only half the facts, then do u turns a week later. Very poor form. So the avoidable crisis could have been avoided by the FIA well and trulli.

      And only in extremely extenuating circumstances do I agree with changing the race result. If sanctions are required and that is a big if, I’d rather see them imposed at the next race.

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